I watched this debate at a bar in the West Village with my friend. There were two advantages to doing so: watching the debates on television with an audience, and alcohol. The first of these reinforced my utter contempt for television news: CNN and NBC are treating the debates not as news but as television — reality television, to be more precise. Moderators — especially Jake Tapper — shaped what we saw not as the rational examination of policies but as spectacle, and the candidates, well aware of their surroundings, took the bait. The alcohol — Brooklyn Lager — helped the idiocy go down more gently.
Bill DeBlasio was heckled by protestors for failing to take action against the policeman who put Eric Garner in the chokehold that killed him. Good. He deserves it. His vanity campaign offers more evidence that he is a fraud, not quite of Trumpian proportions but approaching it. He is a Clinton neoliberal wearing a Warren-Sanders sheepskin and always has been. At least his nemesis Andrew Cuomo does not disguise his centrist yuppie-Democrat essence. Both are sad and awful remnants of the 1990s Democratic Party. I hear Mario Cuomo rolling in his grave.
Debate is a matter of the giving and taking of reasons, with the employment of rhetoric to enhance the appearance and hence the acceptance of those reasons. It is not sustained yelling and insulting. Feigned outrage and sincere nastiness was an éminence grise in the first debate, held in check by the bravura team performance of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But it monopolized the second debate. There was little in it beyond sentiments like “Biden sucks”, “Harris sucks”, and “taxes!” Andrew Yang, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, and Jay Inslee retained their dignity, but dignity alone does not cut it. It was awful.
Barack Obama’s coattails are long, but not as long as the train on Meghan Markle’s wedding gown or a CVS receipt. Biden tried to win by riding on Obama’s coattails, but his record is nowhere near impressive as is Obama’s — who, frankly, was not as successful a president as he is made out to be (e.g., deportations, drone warfare, too willing to compromise with Republicans who were not). Moderation is no longer a selling point, and “electability” is a meaningless notion in the primary-phase of an election, where what counts as “electability” is exactly what’s under scrutiny. He is a likable man, and his genuine friendship with Barack Obama is heartwarming. It is also beside the point. As a viable candidate, he is finished. He will, I suspect, get the nomination.
I think it is time for leftists, liberals, centrists, independents, and never-Trump conservatives to acknowledge that at this point in time, Donald Trump could very well win a second term. This is partly because of the rotten structure of the electoral system in the United States. It is clear that the Democratic Party is split into at least two factions: DLC/Clinton-style neoliberals and Warren-Sanders social democrats/democratic socialists. The Republicans are split into at least five factions: Trumpian white nationalists, rich plutocrats, Evangelical Christian conservatives, libertarians, and “respectable” white suburbanites who consistently vote Republican as a means of perpetuating their comfort. But first-past-the-post and winner-take-all voting reduces any third, fourth, fifth party challengers to spoiler status, and ensures that the views of large swaths of the electorate will be reduced to a common denominator. This is manifestly undemocratic, but built into the political system, and not going away any time soon. It is zombie democracy.
Trump has the advantage both of incumbency and unscrupulousness. He will do and say anything to get re-elected, and has shown himself to be quite adept at manipulating the sentiments of even lukewarm Republicans. He is also vulnerable for precisely these reasons. When you throw shit, the stink rubs off on you: Trump remains unpopular for a majority of U.S. citizens. The 2020 election will hinge on turnout, on this majority showing up at the polls to clear the air of the stench emanating from the White House and Capitol Hill. This debate did nothing to help this desired result, and may have done harm. Which is something we can ill afford.